By Teresa de la Fuente
The benefits that humans obtain from forest ecosystems are numerous. Forests provide goods such as timber, paper, food (mushrooms, honey, roots, fruits, edible leaves, etc.), medicine, and fuel wood, as well as cash income and jobs in the industrial forest sector and ecotourism. Forests also provide ecological services, such as watershed protection (protecting the soil from erosion, regulating water flows, and improving infiltration), biodiversity conservation (forests ecosystems are the habitats for many plants, fungi, and animals), and climate change mitigation (trees absorb and store carbon dioxide for long periods of time, as explained in this previous post). Forests are also important to many cultures because of their beauty, and spiritual and cultural values. Read INESAD’s 5 Rainforest Ecosystem Services that Nourish People and Planet for more details.
If these services, such as carbon storage, are recognized as commodities, the value of forests will rise. The concept of “payments for environmental services” (PES) is explained by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR): “Payments for environmental services are economic instruments that provide incentives to land users to continue supplying an environmental service that is benefiting society more broadly”. These payments can encourage local communities to preserve their forests.
But what does “forest conservation” mean? Does it mean that the forests must remain completely untouched? Is it possible to harvest forest resources and preserve forest ecosystems at the same time?
Forest conservation means maintaining forested areas and their ecological processes in perpetuity. It does not mean keeping a snapshot of the landscape, but rather preserving the processes that make that landscape alive, such as natural disturbances, the nutrient cycle, and biodiversity interactions. The creation of protected areas could be one way of conserving forests but sustainable forestry could also be another option.
Forest communities receiving conservation payments should maintain the essential processes of forest ecosystems mentioned above. This does not mean that forest communities stop using forest resources, which can represent 18 to 24 percent of the total annual household income in lowland Bolivia according to research conducted by the Centre for Forest, Landscape and Planning in Denmark. In fact, these conservation payments could promote the multiple-use and sustainable management of the forests by developing forest management plans. Managing forests for a variety of objectives can help forest communities to be more resilient to possible changes in markets, conservation payments, community needs, and the environment.
Timber could be an important economic resource. If harvesting operations are carried out following a sustainable forest management plan, the sales from timber could contribute to improve local economies and at the same time perpetuity of valuable tree species could be ensured through monitoring of regeneration after harvesting, avoiding the extinction or reduction of these species. Another important aspect related to timber revenues is the capacity of the forest community for processing wood. A study of the Brazilian Amazon, performed by researchers from the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), the Lancaster Environment Centre (U.K.), CIFOR (Indonesia), and the Pará Institute for Education, Science and Technology (Brazil) showed that the prices can vary from US$1-10 per standing cumuru tree (1.5 to 3 cubic meters of wood) when small holders sell directly to loggers, to around US$500 per cubic meter of sawn timber.
However, conservation payments, community involvement, and forest management plans are not sufficient to foster forest conservation and improve the livelihood of forest communities. A market for legal and sustainable forest products is needed. A collaborative study between Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (U.S.A.) and the State University of North Fluminense (Brazil) found that timber coming from sustainable forest management cannot compete with cheap timber from agricultural frontier areas. It is here where small farmers and conservation payments could play an important role to reduce deforestation, as the SimPachamama simulation shows. Timber extraction without any forest management plan often subsidizes the expansion of small-scale agriculture and pasture and therefore deforestation continues.
If conservation payments and the benefits from forest resources are larger than the benefits from cattle ranching and agricultural revenues, then forests could have a chance to survive.
For your reference:
CIFOR (2010). What are “payments for environmental services”? Center for International Forestry Research. Retrieved from http://www.cifor.cgiar.org/pes/_ref/about/index.htm
Shanley P., Da Serra Silva M., Melo T., Carmenta R., & Nasi R. (2011). From conflict of use to multiple use: Forest management innovations by small holders in Amazonian logging frontiers. Forest Ecology and Management 268, 70-80.
Summers P. M., Browder J. O., & Pedlowski M. A. (2004). Tropical forest management and silvicultural practices by small farmers in the Brazilian Amazon: recent farm-level evidence from Rondonia. Forest Ecology and Management 192, 161-177.
Uberhuaga P., Smith-Hall C., & Helles F. (2011). Forest income and dependency in lowland Bolivia. Environ Dev Sustain 14, 3-23.